Jeanne Allen considers herself an avid hiker. But in a region blessed with so many parks, nature preserves and public open space lands that it’s hard for many hikers to decide which trail to take, Allen’s options are limited.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her early 30s, she now relies on a mobility scooter to get around. And she takes it everywhere possible in her quest to check out accessible travel and recreation options for her website and blog, IncredibleAccessible.com.
“When I was still capable, I used to love to go hiking. I don’t do traditional hikes anymore because it’s too difficult. But when we do go someplace new, I’m always finding out if there are accessible trails,” said Allen, who lives in Sonoma.
She’s often disappointed, arriving in a park only to find that it would be impossible for her to experience it at all.
“When we first moved to Sonoma almost 16 years ago, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park was one of the first places we went. But I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be accessible for me,” she lamented, “so we haven’t been back, which is a shame because I hear such beautiful things about it.”
Soon, however, Allen can put the Kenwood park back on her bucket list.
Young crews with the California Conservation Corps began work in February to make the north side of Sugarloaf’s Creekside Nature Trail accessible to people in wheelchairs.
It’s only a short trek of about a half mile, but it will open up to the disabled the pleasure of being creekside among heavy stands of oaks and bay trees. The trail leads to an acorn woodpecker colony, meanders past some interesting rock formations and offers wildflower spotting in spring.
The $500,000 project calls for re-contouring the trail surface to minimize erosion and reduce water run-off. It also includes retaining walls and a small bridge.
When the trail is completed by next winter, the park will also have an accessible parking space in the east trail head parking area and an accessible crosswalk over Adobe Canyon Road to make it easier to reach the west trail head and the picnic area from the existing accessible day-use parking lot.
Under the terms of a lawsuit settlement reached in 2005, the state has been upgrading and adding facilities and trails for the disabled. A master list was created rating each state facility with a number from one to four, with four being the top priority. The state has been making its way through the list starting with the top rated priorities, said Travis Segebart, the accessible trails coordinator for California State Parks.
Upgrades have already been done at Sonoma Coast State Park and most recently at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve in Guerneville, where the .8 mile Pioneer Nature Trail winds under a thick canopy of redwoods on a compacted soil surface. It includes interpretive signs and close looks at Fife Creek and the Icicle and Parson Jones trees.
Accessible trail improvements have also been completed at Mount Tamalpais, China Camp and Samuel P. Taylor state parks in Marin County; Sonoma State Historic Park, Salt Point State Park and Fort Ross State Historic Park in Sonoma County; Mackerricher State Park in Mendocinco County; and Clear Lake State Park in Lake County.
Accessible nature trails
The following parks have nature trails that are accessible to many people with disabilities, or have trails that are under construction. For more suggestions, visit IncredibleAccessible.com or accessnca.org:
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Kenwood -- Creekside Nature Trail (construction underway)
Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen -- Upgrading the path from parking lot to the old winery ruins (spring)
Tomales Bay State Park, Inverness -- Millerton Point Trail, one-mile loop (under construction)
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Calistoga -- Improve accessibility on an accessible trail (fall construction)
Sonoma State Historic Park, Sonoma
Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Glen Ellen
Spring Lake, Santa Rosa
Bodega Head, Bodega Bay
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, Guerneville -- Pioneer Nature Trail
Salt Point State Park, Jenner -- Gerstle Cove loop, campsites and picnic tables
Fort Ross State Historic Park, Fort Ross
Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley
China Camp State Park, San Rafael
Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Lagunitas
Mackerricher State Park, Fort Bragg
Clear Lake State Park, Kelseyville